ACROSS NEW YORK and California, people with Jewish-sounding names have been receiving telephone calls from two interviewers who have identified themselves as Betty and Harry Goodman and asked whom they planned to support for president," a story in this newspaper reported Thursday. Well, gee, Betty, did you have anyone special in mind? You may not be surprised to learn that Betty did. So did Harry. The Goodmans had Mr. Reagan on their minds.
The Goodmans (sounds like your standard television sit-com couple -- ethnic version -- doesn't it?) turn out to be the names assigned to dozens of part- time workers of various ethnic origins, most of them black and Hispanic, employed by the Republican National Committee's National Jewish Coalition. According toruce Soll, who heads the coalition, they called people with "ethnic" names like "Goldstein" and "Schwartz," eliminating those with apparently non-Jewish first names (whatever they may be) as well as anyone whose name ends in "Jr." or "III," since Jews are not ordinarily given the name of a living family member. When talking to the Goldsteins and the Schwartzes in California, Betty and Harry were told to identify themselves as members of the National Jewish Coalition, but they didn't bother to add the fact that the coalition is an arm of the Republican National Committee. In New York, they were instructed to say they were representatives of a polling company, according to the reporter for The Westsider, a small Manhattan weekly, which uncovered the story. All the Bettys and Harrys were paid $4 an hour, 65 cents above the minimum wage. This indicates that the Republicans are not only an equal-opportunity employer, but that they don't pay the meanest wages in town, either.
Aside from that, however, it indicates an attitude toward the electorate that is crude and more than a little distasteful: an attempt to manipulate people on the basis of nothing more substantial than the sound of their names. It assumes that Jews because they are Jews have a special interest in seeing Mr. Reagan reelected, and that the Goldsteins will be more readily persuaded by the Goodmans than by the Smiths, say. Perhaps they will be. It would not be the first time in American politics that such a blatantly crude appeal has been made to persons of various ethnic backgrounds, nor would it be the first instance of a sly deception. It wouldn't be the first time such an appeal was successful, either. But it is important -- vital, really -- to believe, in a democracy, that voters can be swayed by argument and reason, by an appeal to their higher faculties rather than by the names they were born with. It is important not only to believe that, but to act on i.
Both Mr. Soll and Neil Levin, executive director of the New York Jewish Coalition, say they did not instruct their telephone solicitors to use pseudonyms, and Mr. Soll has ordered the practice stopped. He should order the whole damned thing stopped.